‘I’ll be judged on Ashes glory…. but first I want to beat India’: Joe Root knows he will only win over the captaincy critics if he lifts the urn despite being England’s most successful Test skipper
- Joe Root claimed a record-breaking 27th Test win against India at Headingley
- But Michael Vaughan said he must lift the urn to be considered a ‘great captain’
- The England star is a true great as a batsman after six Test hundreds this year
It is a question that hangs over every England captain like the sword of Damocles. Can they possibly be considered a great if they have not led their side to an Ashes triumph?
Certainly, it is a pertinent poser for Joe Root after he became, statistically, the best England captain of them all by claiming his 27th Test victory in charge.
And it is even more relevant now — with another significant series against India poised at 1-1 ahead of the fourth Test — after the view expressed by the England captain whose record Root took, his hero and fellow man of Sheffield, Michael Vaughan.
England captain Joe Root is focused on beating India in the fourth Test, starting on Thursday
Joe Root is second to only Sir Alastair Cook in all-time runs as England captain, 217 behind with 4,627 to Cook’s 4,844.
His next aim will be to fly up the charts for skippers’ performances in the Ashes — he is currently sixth in the batting averages list for those to captain at least five Ashes Tests post-war:
It was after Root’s record-breaking win at Headingley on Saturday that Vaughan suggested his protégé could not be considered a great captain until he lifts the urn. And it was an opinion all but backed up by England coach Chris Silverwood when he said Root is a good captain with the potential to be a great one.
Vaughan made a valid point. After all, the Ashes brand, like it or not, is bigger than ever and it is against Australia that true greatness is still judged. The Ashes are cricket’s Olympics and bigger than any white-ball World Cup.
Root not winning the Ashes as captain would be a bit like a golfer with a hugely successful career, like Lee Westwood, not being considered a great because he has never won a major.
There are cricketing comparisons. Mike Gatting won only two Tests as England captain, but because they were both against Australia and won an Ashes, he has been able to dine out on them ever since. In Gatting’s case, that’s a lot of dining.
And would Mike Brearley be considered one of the best of all England captains had his greatest hour not come, with considerable help from Ian Botham and Bob Willis, against Australia in the fabled 1981 Ashes?
Root can be considered a true great as a batsman after six Test hundreds already this year
Joe Root has eight centuries against India in total — level with Ricky Ponting, Viv Richards, Steve Smith and Garry Sobers. One more will be the record for hundreds against India.
Root has, of course, already been part of two winning Ashes sides, but he lost heavily in his first series in charge against Australia, before again failing at home when the old enemy retained the urn with a drawn series two years ago.
He will get his third and surely last chance, Australia’s hard quarantine permitting, this winter and it is on that series that Root’s captaincy legacy will be judged, whatever happens against India at the Oval from tomorrow and in the last Test at Old Trafford.
Root knows it, too. ‘I think as England captain you are always judged slightly on how you do in Ashes cricket,’ he said yesterday.
‘I need to make sure we win this series against India first, but Australia is something we’ve been planning for a long time.
Root claimed a record-breaking 27th Test win at Headingley in the third Test against India
‘It’s certainly something that everyone wants to do, go to Australia and win, whether as a captain or player.
‘It’s something you’re desperate to do in your career. But in terms of what other people think of me as captain, it’s sort of irrelevant. My job is to do the best job I can for the period I have the role.
‘I’ll continue to give everything to the team and at the end of it, if that’s not good enough for some people, I’ll still have done all I can and I can be proud of that.’
Root will never be in the Brearley mould of tactically astute captains. It is hard to imagine Brearley for instance, or many England captains, making the same mistakes Root did in the field on the last day at Lord’s against India tail-enders Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.
But few England captains have led by a better example than Root and few can have been as popular with his team as a man who took sole responsibility for that second Test cock-up and then saw his players respond magnificently at Leeds.
Michael Vaughan suggested Root could not be considered a great captain until he lifts the urn
It is as a batsman that Root can now, after three sublime hundreds in the last three Tests and six in all this year, be considered a true great. And it is his batting rather than his leadership that is integral to England’s fortunes.
Root was asked yesterday what had pleased him most about his golden run of form. ‘My decision-making,’ he said. ‘I have managed the innings throughout this series and that will be the challenge again at the Oval.
‘I feel I have a nice balance at the moment between attack and defence, and I’m picking up length pretty well. Those are the things that stand out and hopefully I can continue that for the rest of this series and beyond.’
Beyond, of course, is Australia and Root may still have to try to earn that captaincy greatness with one hand tied behind his back. It was reported last week that at least 10 England players have significant concerns about the Covid-related conditions in Australia that may force not only them but their families into an unacceptably tough quarantine.
Root has been part of two winning Ashes sides, but he lost heavily in his first series in charge
‘We are still having conversations with the ECB and we are waiting for more information from Cricket Australia,’ said Root.
‘Until we get that we have to concentrate on this series and make sure it doesn’t become a distraction. There is still a lot to consider.’
So Root faces the very real prospect of taking on Australia in their own backyard, the most difficult of any assignment for an England captain, with a second-choice team. If the Ashes goes ahead at all.
‘There are a few things we could do without at the moment,’ said a captain who has had to contend with more than most over the last 18 months.
‘It’s just how it is and you have to take it in your stride. Sometimes things like this can bring you closer as a group and create a strong bond. Hopefully we can use all this to our advantage.’
If Root manages that and leads England to success against India, starting at the Oval on Thursday, and then Australia, he really will be the greatest of them all.
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